the Cure at Leukerbad Spa
By guest writer Bob Bestor
A lovely range of
indoor and outdoor pools and spas, in a beautiful setting,
make Leukerbad a popular choice for spa seekers and holiday
maker in general.
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Enjoying the spa waters at
Leukerbad is a tradition dating to the ancient Romans and even
further back. Almost 1 million gallons of hot mineral
water gush out of the springs in this area every day.
Add to this the beautiful
scenery, the crisp mountain air, and the network of hiking
trails, and you have a lovely destination with a varied range of
Our own spa experience
To many on this side of the
Atlantic — certainly including this writer — "taking the waters"
is a mysterious, almost occult, European ritual. How, the
unsophisticated American mind wonders, can procedures that all
seem to involve one’s body being pushed, pulled or pounded by
streams of air, water or by a person with incredibly strong
hands who pretends not to understand cries of pain in English,
Such strange rites surely have
their roots in medieval dungeons. "Therapies" like Bain
hydroélectrique, Bain ou sufureux and Interferator sound
suspiciously as if they might be used to obtain the truth. More
sinister yet is Drainage lymphatique manuel complet.
A few years ago, at the Hotel Les
Sources des Alpes in Leukerbad, Switzerland, we took the
opportunity to find out under the most ideal of circumstances.
My therapist — Mr T., as I
came privately to refer to him — ushered me to a small, tiled
room where I would undergo Bain bouillonnant (Sprudelbad, in
German). Doffing my fluffy, hotel-supplied terrycloth
robe, but still wearing swimming trunks, I climbed into a tub of
warm, murky water, there to lie suspended in the contoured
vessel, my limbs arranged just so. My head rested on a rubber
pillow at the edge of the tub. Mr T. positioned himself at
its end, facing me. Grinning, he begin to manipulate the
various dials, switches and valves. Soon the tub began to
vibrate and emit a series of noises that at once reminded me of
a steam train leaving the station and the Blue Angels flying at
The first sensation was of air or
water — perhaps both — slowly at first, but with gathering
force, directed at the bottoms of my feet. The pressure
next found my ankles and worked its way along the contour of my
body. It ended with a rather satisfying stream that
traveled the length of my back. Once this rotation of feet,
ankles, kidneys, elbows, etc., was completed (in about 30
seconds) it began again. This went on for about 20
minutes. Strangely, the surface of the water was virtually
undisturbed. Quite an unusual and agreeable experience,
but not one I imagine that has appreciably extended my life .
Twenty minutes of Sprudelbad set me back about $25.
Mr T. was a robust, 60ish man
with a bushy grey mustache who spoke no English and little
German. We communicated in grunts. During my
"tare-a-pees" he must have grunted "Gute?" every three or four
minutes. Whether it was a machine pummeling me, his hands
fine tuning my ribcage, or jets of water and air attempting to
bore through my body, his question was always the same: "Gute?"
In my limited German I varied my replies among "Ja, Gute," "Sehr
Gute," "Wunderbar" and "Schöne." Occasionally, I was even
telling the truth.
A less enjoyable procedure
employs a forbidding looking apparatus which the "interrogatee"
faces while seated. Each leg from the knee down is placed
into separate metal containers on the floor, and each arm into
identical vessels about the size of roasting pans. These
are affixed to a machine bristling with knobs and various
digital counters, two of which were to rivet my attention over
the next 10 minutes. The idea, apparently, is to increase
circulation in the joints by directing alternating streams of
warm and cold water into the four pans. My cycle was one
minute of warm followed by seven seconds of cold. That’s
Alpine cold. It is a process that cannot possibly be designed to
relax. Yes, at first it felt great, but that precious
minute of warm water soon ticks away and the seven agonizing
seconds of cold must be endured yet again.
A digital indicator which
displayed the temperature of the water quickly commanded my full
attention. My running thought commentary went something like
this: "34, 35, 36, (Celsius), ah good, nice and warm but I could
stand it a little hotter, oops, 30, 27, 20, 10, 7. Lord, that’s
After one or two cycles, like
Pavlov’s dogs, I began to anticipate the changes (ok, ok, so it
took me a while to get the correlation between the numbers and
the pain). But they never came close to breaking me. Fuss-und
Armwechselbad was about $20.
My wife reported less salubrious
results. One of her therapies was a CO2 bath. She sat in a
tub of the murky but health-giving waters draped with towels so
only her head was visible. No noise, no rush of air or
water, just a few bubbles occasionally rising from the warm
She also was favored with Douche
de Vichy ou d’Evian — a $28 number — which consisted of a
massage while being sprayed with either Vichy or Evian mineral
water. An acquired taste, perhaps.
There were other adventures.
A fancy battery charger-like device kneaded my back with little
black suction cups, and Mr. T. did it further damage during a
massage that demonstrated steel rod fingers with which I have no
doubt he can rearrange internal organs without the necessity of
The best part of our "cure,"
however, was its epilogue. Swathed in robes and bath
slippers, we padded the few steps to the warm, sparkling little
outdoor pool, with its fabulous view of the sheer rock wall
looming over the city. There we luxuriated for 20 or 30
minutes. When we emerged from the water, a pool attendant met us
with large, heated bath towels. Wrapped in these and our
robes, we sank exhausted onto chaises and capped our therapy
with – since we're on a health kick – a cold beer.
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26 Feb 2004, last update
28 May 2011
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